Every time you go online, your Internet service provider (ISP) learns a little more about you. Companies like Comcast and AT&T can legally tack and collect this information and then share it with others for advertising purposes.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a trio of broadband privacy rules designed to protect user information.
Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he was planning to block a data security rule that would have required phone companies and ISPs (Internet service providers) to make a “reasonable” effort in protecting customers’ information from data breaches and theft.
Such a move will help the FCC coordinate with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and how it regulates other parts of the Internet, says Pai.
The rules were scheduled to go into effect on March 2nd. Last Wednesday (March 1st), the FCC voted 2-1 to block implementation of the data security rule.
The telecom industry opposes all the FCC’s privacy rules, claiming that such regulations make it hard for ISPs to compete with sites like Facebook and Google – which have weaker privacy rules as outlined by the FTC.
The best way to protect Americans’ privacy “is through a comprehensive and consistent framework,” reads a joint statement by Pai and FTC head Maureen Ohlhausen. “Americans care about the overall privacy of their information when they use the Internet, and they shouldn’t have to be lawyers or engineers to figure out if their information is protected differently depending on which part of the Internet holds it.”
Consumer groups support the rules, insisting that more regulation is needed to protect user information.
“Today’s vote appears to be a troubling first step towards unraveling critical, pro-consumer online privacy protections,” says Consumer Reports’ Laura MacCleery. “Consumers deserve to know, and to have a say in, who uses their data and how.”
According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, over 60% of Americans don’t think their personal information is safe once it hits the Internet.
The two FCC rules that weren’t blocked are scheduled to go into effect later this year. One requires ISPs to inform users what kind of information is being collected, how it is used, and what companies have access to it. The other requires ISPs to gain user consent before sharing or selling data including web-browsing history, email content, Social Security numbers, and financial data.
Most people would agree that consumers have a right to privacy. What people don’t agree on is which agency should make the rules.
In 2015, the FCC reclassified ISPs as “common carriers,” a move that shifted regulatory authority from the FTC to the FCC.
The FCC was then able to enforce net neutrality – preventing broadband providers from doing things like blocking certain video-streaming services, throttling access, or creating “fast lanes” for companies willing to buy them.
Once it had power over the ISPs, the FCC was free to establish new privacy rules. This seems unfair for “edge providers” like Netflix and Amazon, which fall under the purview of the FTC.
Dallas Harris, a policy fellow at Public Knowledge, points out that if the FCC doesn’t set the rules, no one will. “Under the guise of putting local monopoly ISPs on a level playing field with competitive edge providers, the chairman’s actions will leave consumers without any protections at all.”
Now that one rule has been blocked, FCC commissioners may attempt to block the other two.
Without such rules, “broadband providers will be able to sell dossiers of the personal and professional lives of their subscribers to the highest bidder without their consent,” complains Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).
The Internet & Television Association, along with other groups representing ISPs, argues that the new rules would prevent consumers from learning of discount offers and new products. In addition, users would be “bombarded with trivial data breach notifications.”
Editor’s note: We are hoping this rule was tossed out because so many of the Obama administrations rules were poorly written and badly targeted. Privacy is a major issue, some say its already lost.